Valen-Teens Tea and My 4th Version of Butterick 6093

Butterick 6093 Redo..trois…quatre!

valenteen-tea-ii2017’s sewing projects got off to a rocky start, but I threw myself into planning for Valen-Teens Tea with the DFW Costumer’s Guild. We would be hosting a special guest: Laura, the creator and president of Shear Madness!

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Check out the Shear Madness Blog here.
And the Facebook community here.

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Photo courtesy of Barb Chancey

The event started off as informal and small, but soon grew to quite a full party! We met up at the Secret Garden Tea Room in the Montgomery Street Antique Mall in Fort Worth for an early lunch and, of course, tea:

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After tea, we browsed the antique mall for a little while and then went for a nice stroll in the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens next door.

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The event’s theme was 1910s, so Becky wore a thrifted Edwardian outfit she put together from the wonderland that is Goodwill, including her favorite lavender skirt, a pin-tucked floral blouse, and a vintage wool coat she got for a steal– $15! To top it off, she wore a rosey straw hat with a floral spray left over from my Edwardian Hat Hack.

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Becky’s outfit Breakdown:

Pink straw hat – $3.49, Goodwill
Floral Pin-tuck blouse – $4.49, Goodwill
Lavender formal skirt – $7.49, Goodwill
Vintage wool coat – $14.95, Goodwill
Total: $30.42
(Her stockings and shoes were from her daily wear clothes. Always check your own closet! you never know what will work perfectly for a costume!)

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Becky, 1915 style!

For my outfit, I dug Butterick 6093 out of the bottom of my pattern drawer. I’d made it a few years ago and had been less than impressed with the fit. However, I liked the general look and it goes together really fast, so I decided to give it another try.

Previous versions:

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Version 1, July 2015: “Straight” Size 12 made from cotton and a sari. It was a tad small.

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Version 2, August 2015: 1st attempt at a multi-sized dress made from a cotton sheet and a dupatta that Laura sent me. Made for my sister who was the same size I was at the time. It turned out a little too large.

So, I had Goldilock’s problem: the first dress was too small, the second dress was too big…I needed to find one that was just right!

Without the breaking and entering charges, of course.

I decided to make a wearable mockup first. That way, if I ran out of time to make the final dress, I would at least have a version that would work. A wearable mockup is a trial garment that is finished like a regular garment, but isn’t necessarily what you want the final garment to look like. It’s simplified and often made out of an inexpensive/not-so-important fabric. For mine, I had picked up some rolled up remnants of purple mystery fabric at Walmart years ago that had these nifty thick white and purple threads that made pin-tuck-like stripes in the fabric. I had never unrolled it to see what it was like. Turns out it’s cotton organdy! I almost saved it for a different project, but I had bought it with Edwardian specifically in mind, so I now-or-nevered it into a simple version of Butterick 6093:

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It’s sheer and unlined, so I used French seams for everything except the armscyes and waist seam.

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Of course, that means that I had to sew every seam twice, but it makes a really nice, neat finish on the inside of sheer fabrics.

Since I’m an entirely different size than I was in 2015, I decided to start Butterick 6093 from scratch. I had tried a new measurement method for my 1868 Monet outfit earlier in January, and while that outfit didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, the sizing method was actually really helpful: Instead of choosing on flat size, like 16, and then doing a whole bunch of alterations sizing it up and down in various places via mockups, you take a few extra body measurements and choose each pattern piece individually.

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My 1868 dress of failure.

Original photo by Festive Attyre
(one of the few pictures of this dress)

I got the idea from my Fashions of the Gilded Age by Francis Grimble. In the book, you have to take a lot of incremental measurements of your body in order to scale up the pattern pieces. In the case of Butterick 6093, instead of just measuring all the way around my bust or full bust, I broke it down into two separate measurements: 1) full front bust from side seam to side seam and 2) back from side seam to side seam at bust level. Then I laid out the tissue and measured the pattern pieces themselves instead of relying on Butterick’s suggested measurements.

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Minka “helped.”

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By using this method, I ended up with a size 14 back and a size 20 front! Sounds a bit crazy, right? But it works! Truly Victorian, the popular Victorian pattern brand, uses a similar method to select your pattern pieces. The method suits Butterick 6093 well because there are no darts or curved back seams to worry about.

I really love the purple organdy dress, but when I tried it on…

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Scientifically accurate rendering.

1910s dresses, like Regency dresses, can be problematic on certain body types. Indeed, the ice cream cone look was totally in from 1910-1913, but that isn’t a look I strive to recreate! The combo of the crisp fabric and the way I had gathered it made for a super-full front that would make a great Lumpy Space Princess cosplay, but not the most flattering tea gown.

Oh. My. Glob.

But when I put it on my dress form, it looked fab!

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I mean, it helps that my dress form is shaped like an ideal size 10 with the added bonus of having one of my old bras stuffed onto it like a giant Barbie voodoo doll that sulks in the corner of my sewing room:

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I expect things to look awesome the dress form, but if she’s very-near-to-literally having my exact bustline, why isn’t it a muffin-topped mess on her? It turns out that it’s got everything to do with my short waist.

My dress form is standardized to meet industry standards. That means she has an “average” torso length which happens to be about 2″ longer than mine! So the purple dress looked great on her because the very fitted skirt was the right length for her. On me, however, the top is about 1.5″ too tall causing the skirt to extend past where it should be, pushing the excess bodice length up and over the top, creating the unflattering droopy ice cream cone shape (Why do I end up describing all my sewing projects as desserts?!).
If you look at my previous versions, you will see a similar thing happening even at the smaller sizes.
I removed an inch off the top of the skirt pattern pieces for my final version.

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Image includes complimentary glob of cat hair for your viewing pleasure.

It was like the magic cure! No more ice cream cone!

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Of course, the final version doesn’t fit very well on my dress form, but that’s because it fits ME, not HER.

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Take that, Gertie!

The fabric I used for the final version is an amazing cotton shirting with woven swiss dots. Just like my failed 1868 dress, it is one of the last fabrics I purchased at Hancock’s before they went under. This time, however, I don’t feel like I wasted it! It was a dream to sew with. I used it “inside out” so the fuzzy side of the dots faced out. The cream fabric is a filmy cotton curtain I found at Goodwill that has a drawn threadwork look:

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Unlike the swiss dot, the curtain fabric was NOT a dream to sew with, so I didn’t make the long undersleeves I planned, but I did use it to make a contrasting rever! Thanks to my great experience with Butterick 3648, I am in love with revers! To turn 6093’s lapel into a rever, I simply taped it onto the bodice pattern piece on one side so when I cut it out, I ended up with this:

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I’ve grown to admire Butterick 6093’s versatile styling options. Even if you don’t want to do fancy stuff like make revers, it comes with a curved lapel that can be used alone or in a pair, a squared collar, and skirt panels that can be used alone or overlapped, or you can leave all those extra bits off, like I did for my purple dress! It also has two sleeve options, though I haven’t tried the long sleeves with the cuffs yet.

Pattern options include:

  • 3 skirt options: 1 drape, 2 drapes, none
  • 6 collar options: single lapel, double lapels, square collar, square collar+1 lapel, square collar +2 lapels, no collar
  • 2 sleeve options: short sleeves, long sleeves

There are over 30 combos you can make from the basic pieces alone!

And that number doesn’t even include things like changing the wrap direction of the bodice, adding extra embellishments, using more than one fabric, etc.

In fact–as a testament to the versatility of the pattern–we realized that three of us had used Butterick 6093 to make our tea dresses, but our dresses were all very different!

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While I opted for the asymmetrical collar and a double-draped skirt in light cotton, Jane used a textured wool blend and completely omitted the collar, and Laura chose the square collar and a printed cotton.

Instead of gathering the bottom of the bodice, I made two large box pleats. It’s definitely unusual, but it worked! I also box pleated the back in the same manner.

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I added a kick pleat in the back– the same solution Jane had come up with.

The dress is one piece and closes at the side seam with an invisible zipper. It’s not Historically Accurate, but it’s discreet.

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For those concerned with HA, the zipper can easily be swapped out for hooks and eyes.

Overall, I would say that this pattern is a good one if you are willing to figure out the sizing. It’s flattering on nearly all body types and is a quick dress to make. I made it in about 10-12 hours (most of that time was spent ironing, TBH).

To accessorize my dress, I wore the hat I made in my Edwardian Hat Hack, my sister’s little white purse (which goes to nearly every event!), an antique necklace, some thrifted shoes, and a very serendipitous vintage coat I found the day before.

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Photo courtesy of Mistress of Disguise

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My attempt at an autochrome.

Outfit Breakdown

4 yards of green cotton – $16, Hancock’s Fabric
1 cotton curtain – $1.49, Goodwill
1 invisible zipper – $3.50, Walmart
1 spool of thread – $1.95, Walmart
Shoes – $7.99, Goodwill
1960s coat – $18.95, Goodwill

Total – $49.88

Underneath, I’m wearing my beloved Rago 821. The way it fits me very closely mimics a Teens corset, but it’s stretchy and cheap! I got it for about $30 off Amazon. I highly recommend it for 1910s and later!

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My updated, more technical review of Butterick 6093 is posted on the Sewing Pattern Review website here.

Megan’s photos of the tea can be found on Flickr here.

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And my photos can be seen here.

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A Simple 1870s Hairstyle Tutorial and a Review of Mona Lisa’s Curly Bangs Wiglet from Hair World By Jamie

Hair styling is not one of my talents, so, logically, one would assume that I might turn to wigs to make up for my skill deficit…until, of course, you hand me a wig…

Expectation:

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Sexy Pin-up.

Reality:

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Captain Hook.

Part of my problem is that wearing and caring for a wig still requires some level of hair competency and, frankly, I just am not a wig person. I am a hat person. A hat/bonnet/veil covers a multitude of hair sins!

She may or may not be wearing a giant plastic claw clip and three glittery butterfly barrettes underneath…

However, there are a few eras when hairdos outshone (or overshadowed) the hats. One of those eras is the 1870s. If you love fancy hair and lots of it, the 1870s is the decade for you!

The 1870s were all about big hair, big curls, big braids, and big lies. Fake hair was pretty much required for a properly full 1870s look. Most fashion-conscious women owned at least one switch of hair that wasn’t theirs. Indeed, nearly every fashionable hairstyle involved different hair extensions lie tiny curled frizzettes (fuzzy, short bangs) or even huge braids and entire chignons made of someone else’s hair:

Variety of fashionable hairstyles and the hair extensions (called switches) used to create them, circa 1867.

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, Revue de la Coiffure, circa 1875

There were also all manner of Victorian hair “hacks” invented to help create the elaborate updos in vogue, not unlike all the “As Seen On TV” bun makers and curling contraptions we have today.

Hair dressing combs from Revue de la Coiffure, circa 1878
These combs were sold with instruction pamphlets so ladies and their maids could create stunning hairstyles with “less effort.” I can feel my hair knotting up just looking at them!

A later Edwardian ad for Hair Switches and Chignon Forms from a 1912 Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalog

As my Simplicity 4244 Natural Form Era project inched closer to completion, I realized that I was going to have to do SOMETHING with my hair in order to properly top off my new 1870s outfit. Hair can really make a or break an outfit, especially a historical one. I wanted to do Simplicity 4244 proper justice, and, honestly, crazy-huge hair has always been my unattainable dream. I figured it was time to give some proper historical hairstyling a try!

I assessed my skills: I could make a high pony tail and I could curl it. Oh, and I could use one of those mesh donuts to make a smooth faux bun, like I did for the DFW Costumers Guild’s outing to Dracula:

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Confession: Christopher actually curled my hair. I just stood there and wept silently at my ineptitude.

Since then, I have learned to operate the curling iron on my own, so now I can make passable spiral curls! Huzzah! I also learned the value of sectioning hair, like parting it from side to side and dividing it to make simple braids. It all sounds so ridiculously basic writing it down, but considering I struggled to make a high “Barbie” ponytail for years, the skills many women take or granted are huge victories for me! With these few triumphs under my belt, I found inspiration in both historical and modern hair tutorials:

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“Details d’une coiffure en cheveun” hairstyle guide from 1873

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Explicación del peinado a dos cogas (Guide for a hairstyle with two rolls), circa 1866, from La Moda Elegante

Modern bridal hairstyles like this one by Ulyana Aster (especially with hair jewels), remind me of Empress Sissi’s hair.

Many of the tutorials I found were for women with thick, textured/curly, or extra-long hair. My natural hair is thin and slick, but fairly plentiful. It is all the same length and doesn’t hold curl really well, but will make a nasty knot in an instant (teasing is not my friend).

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24 hours after cowashing and air drying in the Great Texas Blow-Dryer (sweltering sunshine and western wind). It’s not a dream to style, but it is now much easier to work with than before I began cowashing and using homemade dry shampoo, which more closely mimic historical hair care methods.

With a little experimenting, I came up with an 1870s hairdo that can be done in less than 30 minutes, alone, with minimal tools and techniques. I figured there must be other ladies out there that struggle with historical hair, so I shut myself in my horribly lit bathroom for half an hour to make a photo tutorial.
My hair is below-shoulder length right now, but the method I came up with will work for shoulder length hair, too.

General Hairstyle Suitable for 1867-1880

You will need:

1 ponytail tie/elastic
1 smaller hair elastic
A curling iron
Hair pins, bobby pins, or a snap clip

Step 1: Brush your hair back into a smooth, high ponytail at your crown and secure it with a hair tie.

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 You can experiment with the height of your ponytail so it works best for your hair length and comfort. If you choose to wear a hat/cap/bonnet, make sure it will sit properly over the ponytail. You might need to raise/lower it accordingly.

Step 2: Divide your ponytail into two sections–top and bottom– and bundle the top section together with a hair elastic.

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The top part of your ponytail will become the twist and the bottom part will become the falling curls. Divide the hair according to your preference. Dividing it evenly in half will result in a fuller top twist. Taking only a third of the ponytail for the top will result in a fuller set of curls in the back.

Step 3: Curl the bottom section of your ponytail into ringlets.

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For best results, use a 3/4 inch or smaller curling iron. Mine is 3/4 of an inch and it is about as large as you can go for good period ringlets. Curling irons in the era were generally smaller or women would use rag curls, another option is you have the time. Here are some photos showing Late 1860s-1870s falling curls in a few different sizes and styles: large and tumbling, medium and neat, and small and tight.

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Step 4: Twist (or braid) the top section of your ponytail.

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To get a nice, pretty loop, I loosely twisted the top section. If you have fuller/longer hair, this section would look extra fancy braided. Braids were all the rage during the 1870s– the bigger, the better!

Step 5: Loosely loop the top section around the back of the ponytail and secure the end in front/underneath.

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This sounds tricky, but it’s really more complicated to type/photograph than to actually do. You just drape the twisted top section over the curls in the back, making a nice, languid loop. Then secure and hide the ends. I used a snap clip to secure mine, but a more subtle and period-correct method would be to use hairpins or bobby pins. If your hair is really long, you might even be able to loop it twice or make a bun!

And that’s the end of my basic 1870s style!

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You could stop here, or add a decorative comb or some flowers to dress it up. The style is very similar to this lady’s, especially if you separate the ringlets a bit with your fingers:

Kate Beckinsale…Is that you?!

However, I felt that my hair was a little too smooth and flat to look really 1870s-chic, so I decided to buy a hairpiece!

My first idea was to buy a fancy bun cover, like these:

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Bonus: bun covers are historically accurate! (see Figure 17)

Big braided buns are so totally 1870s that I just KNEW that if I could get one, I would look so incredibly fabulous that clouds would part, angels sing, and unicorns would frolic around me! However, I was dangerously close to my event deadline and most of these glorious chignons are only available directly from China. I couldn’t find a braided bun sold by a US seller, but I did find a large, curly one I thought might work okay and the seller advertised that their stock was shipped from the US and could arrive in 3-5 days.

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LIES!

After placing my order, I got an apologetic email informing me that they actually didn’t stock my color in the US despite what the listing said, so it shipped directly from China anyway. I was miffed that I paid extra money for this style because I thought it was US stock, only to have it ship from China like the fancier, less-expensive versions I actually wanted. My order did arrive in time, though, BUT, it was nothing like the color in the picture! It was waaaaaay too dark. I think they sent me the next color down.

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The one on the left is the color I ordered (light brown). The one on the right is closer to the color I received (dark brown).

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So close, and yet so far!

So I paid more and waited longer for an item that I couldn’t use. I was disappointed to say the least– and rather heartbroken because I had invested so much hope into it, dreaming of solving my historical hair woes for good. Honestly, it is a super cute hairpiece that could have worked so well if it had been the right color!
After so much anticipation only to have my hopes dashed, I was really worried I wouldn’t find a good hairpiece in time for the event.

Still, I knew I needed something to complete my hair. I crossed my fingers and bought a little curly wiglet from Jamie’s Hair World on eBay. They assured me that they were US based (my item shipped immediately from California), and my item would arrive in a week. They were right!

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Doesn’t it look like a hairy cell phone cover? It’s about the right size and shape!

My camera sucks at capturing true colors in the awful florescent light of my room. The color is accurate to the color chart’s “Medium Golden Brown.” It is synthetic hair and is not overtly shiny. The texture is what I would call “quality Halloween wig,” not particularly soft, but not crunchy.

Before I show you how it looks on, here’s the main listing picture:

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Mullet madness!

The picture does not lie. You can make a pretty darn sexy mullet with it:

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This is fresh out of the package with no fluffing or styling which is why I call it my “curl loaf.”

While it might seem hideously wrong for the period, this wiglet is perfect for late Victorian hairstyles. Victorians loved big, curly bangs just as much as party girls in the 1980s! According to an article from 1894, full, curly bangs like this were called “Titus” bangs and were available as hairpieces just like mine (see Figure 31). If the Jamie’s wig model above just curled her “party in the back,” she’d be a dead ringer for the Victorian Goddess of Curly Bangs, actress Sarah Bernhardt!

If you collect Victorian Photographs on Pinterest, I can guarantee you that, at some point, you have seen or even pinned a photograph of Ms. Bernhardt. If by some miracle you haven’t, this webpage is full of her photos and portraits. Go forth and adore!

Rawr!

So despite its dubious appearance, the reason I chose this little wiglet is that it’s extremely versatile. Besides being worn as bangs, the pictures also show it styled as a curly chignon:

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And I decided to place mine at the top of my head to give my otherwise flat hair the tall, voluminous look of classic 1870s hair.

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Unlike many hairpieces which have only a few basic color choices, Jamie’s Hair World offers this hairpiece in over 20 hair colors! My hair does this funky natural ombre thing–brown at the roots that lightens to strawberry blonde– so I didn’t quite know which color would work best for me. Since I was going to wear this nearer to my roots, I chose the Medium Golden Brown. It was a good match!

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It’s super easy to put on. You just snap the little bottom combs open and clip them shut into your hair. Mine stayed perfectly in place through a whole evening in theater under my heavy tiara and didn’t budge all day in the blustery Texas wind at the Cowgirl Museum.

As I said, I’m not very adept at working with hair or wigs, so the addition of a small hat instantly hides any of my styling shortcomings and completes the look.

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This wiglet is quick, easy, and works exactly as I wanted it to. The color match was true to life as were the product pictures. As a bonus, I caught mine on sale for $15, though it is currently priced at $18 including shipping, a little more expensive than other hairpieces directly from China, but the color choices, quality assurance, and quick domestic shipping are wonderful perks. The styling and texture are very convincing in real life even with my lack of styling skills. Overall, I would give this Mona Lisa Wiglet from Hair World by Jamie a very satisfying 4.5 out of 5 rating! The perfect hairpiece for beginners!

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Conquering the Croissants Part III: Simplicity 4244 FINAL RESULTS

For 10 long sewing-skill-and-weight-gaining years, I had been beguiled by bake-shop beauty Simplicity 4244, the infamous “hip-croissant” Victorian wedding dress pattern:

“You promised the bread jokes were over…”
I LIED.

While the build-up took nearly a decade, the actual sewing itself took only about four weeks to make a double batch of dresses: one week to work up the gumption to cut the pattern, one week to fiddle with the mockup, one week to sew the ballgown for Tiaras and Toe Shoes, one week to turn the mock-up into a real dress for Bustles and Bullets the following weekend.

Though it was begun second, I finished the ballgown version first:

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Simplicity 4244 Evening Gown Cost Breakdown

8.4 yards rayon/nylon fabric – $27.66, Hancock Fabrics
1 king sized grey cotton sheet (dress lining) – $4.99, Thrift Town
1 twin size polyester sheet (bustle lining) – $1.99, Thrift Town

1 spool thread – $2.49, Walmart
17 hooks and eyes – $3, Hobby Lobby

Total: $40.13

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Yes, my tiara is on crooked. I took these pictures on a whim 20 minutes before I had to transform back into my regular librarian form for work, so my hair is a mess, too. Don’t care! Still fabulous! If I were real royalty, I might just start a jaunty-tiara trend.

I fondly think of it as my “Ariel” dress because halfway through sewing it together, I realized the shimmery–and impossible to sew– material is similar to Ariel’s modern Disney princess dress:

2013 Princess Ariel Redesign

I didn’t really have time to really roll with the theme, but I did give a little nod to her with my mermaid-tail bustle:

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The bustled train and pleated chevrons are the same fabric as the body of the dress. The right side used for the accents is very shimmery and iridescent. It’s very pretty, but I thought a whole gown of it would be kind of overwhelming and not so historical looking. So for the main body, I used the “wrong” side of the fabric which is lighter and not so shiny.

You may be getting the feeling that there’s something else different about this dress. It seems to be missing something….

Oh! I know! To make a ballgown version, I left off the sleeves:

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To slow off my toned-by-ten-hours-of-typing-a-day upper arms, of course. Why pretend to look rich if you can’t flaunt your sedentary lifestyle?

Fashion Plate, 1880

Well, that is true: my version is missing the sleeves of the original, but that’s not quite what’s bothering you?

Hmmmm…

Is it the plainness of the design? I did leave off all the trimmings except for the pleated chevrons on the skirt. Indeed, my ballgown is rather plain compared to the original pattern design and other fancy gowns of the era. I started it only a week before the event (a bad habit I’ve developed, I know!), so I didn’t get to add all the extra bits that would really make it ball-worthy. I did try to glam it up with a glittering golden floral spray I found for a steal on eBay:

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Jealous? Don’t be! Get one for yourself (or two) here!
I always expect eBay jewelry to be a little less pretty in person than the professional photos show, but this floral spray is just as gorgeous in person as it is in the picture.

Besides, I didn’t want my dress to outshine my glorious eBay tiara!

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If you need a princess crown on a pauper’s budget, this tiara was only $25 with shipping!
It’s good quality and the seller I purchased from is in the US, so if you live in the States and need a tiara quick (like I did), I highly recommend this shop.

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What? I’m STILL missing something?!
Well, let’s look at the original again:

Ah! I’ve got it now! You’ve noticed that my ballgown is COMPLETELY GLUTEN FREE!

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No breakfast foods in sight! It is a dinner dress, after all.

I am aware of the letdown this must be. After all, the whole reason everyone is so fascinated by this pattern in the first place is the handbang-sized puffs ballooning out of the side, but I SWEAR I have an excuse!

Simplicity 4244 calls for 14 yards of fabric to make according to the directions (not including all the bias binding and pleated trim). The shimmery teal fabric I chose was one of the bargain bin closeout bolts at Hancock Fabrics (*weeps silently*), so I only had 8.4 yards to work with. As I revealed in my post about constructing this gown, the pannier swags at the hips are formed by two very long polonaised bodice pieces:

simplicity 4244 pieces

Pattern pieces #1, #1A, and #3 become the swags.

With only 2/3 the fabric I needed to make the pattern as designed, I had to choose between these fabric-hogging swags and the full, luscious bustled train I desired. For the sake of my time, sanity, and design sense, I chose the full bustle.

My sacrifice (*more silent weeping*) does have an upside besides a swanky mermaid bustle: it shows the most basic structure of Simplicity 4244 and how easily you can change the design to suit you or your fabric. To do away with the overlay, I just cut pieces #4, #5, and #6 (the bodice lining, front and side skirt pieces) as one. That made the full front without the need for the polonaise layer over the top.

It also proved that the identifiably Natural Form Era lines of the dress are not dependent on the panniers. Since the pattern pieces themselves are historically accurate, the Victorian framework is already there for you to work with.

Lessons learned: The bare minimum amount of 45″ wide yardage to make an 1870s dress from this pattern is about 8 yards, and the design is not dependent on the panniers for the historical look.
Also, every women needs a tiara
!

Rest assured, friends, I did not neglect the fluffy polonaise croissants entirely.

Baking bread and latent ideas are two things you don’t want to neglect.

Before I made the ballgown, I made a mock-up. Since my initial half mock-up for this dress had gone so well, I decided to make my full mock-up a wearable mock-up. A wearable mock-up is one that you finish just like a regular gown, essentially a full garment. It was still an experiment, though, so I didn’t want to waste money on fabric if it wasn’t going to work. I chose a cheap $1-a-yard plaid cotton gauze from Walmart and used a king-sized cotton sheet for lining. Since I had the full 14 yards–well, 13.75 yards as there were some mangled sections– of fabric, I was able to make the polonaised front sections and even have enough fabric left for long sleeves and pleated trim around the hem!

BUT…

I did not make the croissants as directed!

I guess you could say that instead of full, fluffy French croissants, I made Pillsbury crescent rolls. I pleated the polonaise down the entire length of the side and skipped the rear swag entirely.
Here is the result:

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There she is!

I know, no delicious hip pastries, but the construction of the front remains nearly the same. The bottom of the polonaise front “floats” over the lining beneath:

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Since I made the mock-up with the ballgown in mind, the square neckline is a little too…ahem!…sexy for respectable daywear, especially for a old married missus like m’self! So I accessorized it with a fabulous micro-pleated cotton collar I hacked directly off an old button front blouse I’d found at Goodwill three days prior. I thought the shirt was hideous, but something in my mind nagged me to take it home. Glad I listened! The collar slips over my head like a scarf and is just the right size to keep me looking proper:

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The bows were made from the very last bit of ribbon left over from my 1850s bonnet. I used this amazing bow tutorial from The Ribbon Retreat to make the two big bows.

My dress form is a little wonky and no where near my shape, so the fit of the bodice and booty isn’t the greatest on her, but you get the idea. This dress isn’t designed to be worn over a full bustle. Instead, the bustle ties inside and my ancient tablecloth bum pad give it the right amount of fullness. Despite reducing the size of the train, it still ended up rather sizable for a walking dress. I can walk in it, though, and walk I did– around the Fort Worth Cowgirl Museum with the DFW Costumer’s Guild!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
(with some help from an obliging gentleman in the lobby!)

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
I love this picture because I actually wrangled my hair into a passably suitable hairstyle despite being hair illiterate!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

We had a wonderful time together dressed as 1880s city folk and turn-of-the-century country cowgirls! As you can see, I was the “oldest” of the bunch, just eking over the 1880 mark. There are more photos of our outing in Jen’s Cowgirl Museum album on Flickr and if you’d like to play dress up with us, check out the DFW Costumer’s Guild website for a list of events!

Simplicity 4244 Plaid Day Dress Cost Breakdown:

14 yards of plaid cotton gauze – $14, Walmart
1 king sized sheet – $4.99, Thirft Town
Hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
1 nearly-full spool of thread – $2.49, Walmart
Ruffle collar stolen from blouse – $4.29, Goodwill
Navy ribbon – $4.75, eBay

Total: $32.52

Alrighty! Review time!

Let’s take off the rose colored glasses and get going.

This gown is tricky for me to review because while all the techniques and the pattern pieces themselves are all fairly straight forward, the sheer amount of fabric and the fitting requirements make it unsuitable for a beginner.

If you forgo the trimming, as I did, I think a confident (or stubborn) intermediate seamstress could tackle this project with good results. I consider myself an intermediate seamstress, and I was challenged, but not frustrated, by this pattern. I would NOT try to make a ball gown out of it in a week as I did! Take your time and go slowly. You will need to be willing to work with your body in order to get the smooth fit over the torso required to make this pattern shine, so be prepared to practice making lots of darts! There is a fair amount of hand finishing: facing the neckline, sewing hooks and eyes or buttons, and sewing on the bows. If you choose to do a proper hand-sewn hem instead of a machined hem, be prepared to spend a few hours to sew the 100+ inch length (depending on your train). The large pattern pieces require lots of space to cut and assemble and can be unwieldy around the sewing machine. However, I feel the work is well worth the result you can get. The accuracy is spectacular and, as a base, the pattern offers plenty of opportunities for customization.

I had fun making this pattern and will likely make it again in the future–perhaps this time with all the carbs included!

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Part I: Researching Simplicity 4244
Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

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Sadly, this pattern is Out of Print (OOP), so it can only be purchased through private sales. If you want a copy, check online auction and craft sites. I think it’s a good candidate for a re-issue by Simplicity. Maybe if enough of us “Conquer the Croissants,” they’ll consider re-printing it so everyone can more easily get a copy to play with!

Conquering the Croissants Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

In my last post, I dug into the history of the infamous “Victorian hip croissant” pattern, Simplicity 4244:

“Please tell me you are done with the croissant jokes…”

With a clearer understanding of what the pattern was supposed to do, I was ready to start baking…er…making Simplicity 4244!

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“I hate you…”

I made both a day and an evening version of this dress. The pattern is accurate and easy to alter for either look, depending on your fabrics and trimmings. This is a pretty lengthy post because I wanted to be fairly thorough. It’s not a step-by-step guide, but I did make changes to suit my needs which I thought I should elaborate on.

The Process: Analyzing the Pattern

I had already figured out the era and the look the pattern was aiming for, but was the pattern itself historical in construction? As soon as I got my copy in the mail, I opened it to see what the pattern looked like. With over 70 steps printed in the guide and 32 pattern pieces (9 of which are not patterned on the tissue, but rather measured out on your own), I almost had a mini heart attack!

DROP THE PASTRIES! ABORT MISSION! ABORT MISSION!

BUT, upon further inspection, I realized that 38 of the 72 steps were instructions for trimming and only 8 to 9 of the 32 pattern pieces were actually needed to make the basic shape.

simplicity 4244 pieces

Blue highlighted pieces provide the basic structure of the gown.
Orange dotted pieces are helpful, but not required.
The rest is all trimming and train.

I was honestly expecting something hideously complicated, especially for the piece(s) that would form the side swags. I was surprised to discover the swags are polonaised via an elongated/skirted version of the bodice. Pattern pieces #1 and #3 in the image above become the swags merely by pleating them according to the guide provided by pattern piece #2. You’ll notice that I didn’t highlight 2 or 3 as necessary to make a dress from this pattern. You will see why later!

After I did my first mock-up (photo below), I thought, “Why is there a long, weird, curvy dart under the arm?” A few of the other instructions also caught me off-guard and I began to wonder, “Is some of the funkiness of this pattern due to the fact that it’s based directly off of an original garment with its own quirkiness?” After making the pattern twice now, I can say with certainty that Simplicity 4244 is quite accurately patterned from the original gown, including some period (and possibly personal) techniques. I cannot vouch for it from a strict candle-light-and-hand-dawn-well-water reenactor’s point of view, but from a hand-finish-the facings-but-machine-the-long-seams costumer’s point of view, this pattern is right out of the period. The little underarm dart/pleat, for example, is a tell-tale feature of period polonaise patterns. Frances Grimble’s book “Fashions of the Gilded Age, Vol. 1” even has a nice little excerpt about it in the introduction to the Polonaise section:

“‘[A polonaise] is shaped under the arm by a dart instead of the regular underarm seam.'” – F. Grimble quoting Harper’s Bazar, 1879, on page 310.

The same excerpt even describes the precise way 4244’s panniers and rear swag are formed from the elongated front bodice piece:

“‘In very many dresses the pannier fullness attached to the front is brought outside the side pieces and back. It is joined together by a large rosette or a sash bow on the middle seam of the back.'” – F. Grimble quoting Harper’s Bazar, 1879, on page 310

Indeed, when you compare Simplicity 4244 to original period patterns (in this case a polonaise dress on page 318 of “Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol. 1”), they are spot on, right down to having pleat markings to create the pannier swag:

4244 victorian original comparison

The purple tissue is my traced pattern of Simplicity 4244 pattern piece #4, the front lining, exactly as it is printed. The small Xs on the left side of the antique polonaise pattern denote the pleats to make the pannier for that particular style.

That’s what makes the gown a polonaise/princess-line hybrid: the front portion is constructed like a polonaise, but the one-piece construction and flat train behind are hallmarks of the princess style.

The Process: Cutting and Fitting

Choosing the correct size can be tricky, and I have, much like the over-stuffed puffs on the envelope, expanded beyond my usual bounds in recent months, so I went by the finished bust measurement on the back of envelope, which led me to choose a base size of 12. All the shaping at the waist and hips is done with French darts, so the bust measurement is the only “static” measurement besides length.

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Here’s the dress (inside out) before I added the front darts. Makes a cute 1920s dress, don’cha think?

I decided to fit the dress over my new Corset Story corset. While it’s not entirely accurate, the long tapered waist and a dramatic hips are perfect under the close-fitting Natural Form style. I don’t have very prominent hips to begin with, so having the extra va-va-voom really helps get the proper shape. Here’s the first mock-up I made, a straight size 12, using only the top half of the pieces to make a “bodice” of sorts:

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You could probably make this dress into a two piece dress if you chopped the pieces off at the hips like I did for my mock-up.

Not bad! I did end up completely changing the darts to accommodate my larger bust-waist ratio and shorter waist. At first, I thought I might need to remove the underarm dart, too, because it was pulling strangely, but I figured out that, like the other darts, it just needed to be tweaked to fit my body. This where the “direct from historical garment” part comes in to play. You may need longer/shorter/deeper/shallower or otherwise slightly different darts than the original wearer. Altering darts is part of the joys and sorrows of being a uniquely shaped human being!

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Original pattern in purple on the left, my changes on the right. Notice I didn’t include the side dart on my pattern. I found it easier to pinch them out by hand before adding the sleeves in order to obtain the best possible fit.

I am exceptionally proud of my French Darts. I’d never sewn them before and I was very pleased that I did them passably the very first time!

The Process: Fabric Choice

As discussed in my previous post, fabric choice is hugely important since it changes the way the swags lie. The original dress was silk satin which lets the panniers hang properly. A great fabric choice to be sure, but so very very very far out of price range!
Instead, I scurried off to Walmart for bargain-bin cotton gauze. Walmart had them in a few colors–purple was my first choice– but this yellow plaid had enough for a dress: 14 yards. And, yes, it did take nearly the entire 14 yards to make my plaid dress! If you plan on doing the original Vandyke hem and pleating, you will need closer to 16 to be safe. This is accounted for on the back of the envelope.

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Thin cotton gauze/voile is an excellent choice for this gown. It’s got the drape needed, but still has body; plus, it’s easy to sew. Highly recommend–especially at $1 a yard!

I also bought the last bit of an iridescent rayon/nylon blend from the bargain section of Hancock Fabrics (*sad sigh*) for the evening gown version.
I am terribly upset that H.F. is going out of business. I found so much awesome fabric there.

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I only had 8.4 yards of this stuff. It was painful and tedious, but I was able to squeeze an evening dress out of it with only a few tiny scraps to spare.

I used cotton sheets for the lining in both gowns. It took 1 king-sized sheet each.

The Process: Cutting

This is where I started to deviate from the design. The pattern pieces are so huge that I found it easier to cut my fabric into sections as I went. I cut the lining out of the sheet first which helped me work out the best cutting configuration for my needs.

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Obligatory “helper cat” picture.
Also, you can see some of the changes I made to the pattern. The two front skirt pieces, for example, I cut as one. On an original gown, the separate pieces were probably done so they could fit on narrower pieces of silk. My fabric was able to accommodate them as one, though. Since I was making a day dress, I also omitted the extra piece for the super-long train by cutting the back piece about 3 inches from the fold. This provided enough fabric for a full back without being overwhelming.

I am 5 foot 6 inches tall. I lengthened the skirt by about an inch all around the bottom to make it walking/ankle-length when I wear a small heel. As I discovered later, the skirt pieces are squared off at the bottom in order to form the triangle edge. If you are going for a smooth hem (as I was) you’ll need to taper them; otherwise, the bottom will not match up. I discovered this too late to fix the plaid gown, but I was able to cover the weirdness with trim.

The Process: Assembling/Not Assembling the Hip Swags

Alrighty! Here’s the fun part everyone’s curious about! How in the great blue blazes do do you make those croissants?!

Well, you assemble the skirt front(s) and lining:

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And sew pattern pieces #1/1.a on top:

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Then use use the provided guide to pleat it up into the pannier shape at the side. That’s literally it. How you pleat pattern piece #1 (and #3, if you are making the gown with the tail swags in the back) is what determines how delicious your croissants/panniers look.

It is now confession time: I majorly deviated from the pattern here. I wrestled with this decision. After all, half the glory of this pattern is the soft, fluffy hip-croissants of infamy! But, no matter how strong my drive to prove this pattern is good in spite of what folks may say, my drive to experiment with the pattern was stronger. So instead of pleating the sides from hip to bum like the pattern guide told me to, I pleated it the whole way down.

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I wasn’t sure if having lots of pleats terminating so abruptly on a princess-line gown was accurate, but my dress ended up looking similar to this extant gown:

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Brautkleid (Wedding Dress), circa 1881

In fact, my plaid dress ended up being very similar to this gown even though I didn’t mean it to be! I must have been surfing on a 1881 wavelength as I was sewing.

LESSON LEARNED: You do not need to make the hip croissants if you don’t want to! You can play with the polonaise front as much as you want. Look at extant examples for inspiration. Get creative!

For my ballgown, I left the polonaise panniers off entirely in order to get a full dress out of only 8 yards of fabric. Instead, I used pleated bands of decoration down the front.

The Process: Assembling the Back

This part is easy. You just follow the instructions given. The train is completely customizable depending on how full or long you want it. Since the train is a separate width of fabric from the back pattern piece, you can easily make it of an accent fabric like I did for my ball gown. The train gives you a lot of options to play with it by making pleats, adding layers of ruffles and lace, tucking in flowers, or playing with draping. It’s quite fun! I’m not a huge fan of the flat train. I find it rather uninteresting and difficult to maneuver, especially at crowded public events, so for my ballgown, I created a mermaid tail train.

To make the mermaid tail, I cut the train lining the size I wanted the finished train to be. Then I cut the fashion fabric much longer in order to make three fat box pleats:

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I made them a too far down, so I ended up tacking the top of the pleats up in order to get them to fall attractively.

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An entertaining view of the WIP laying flat on its side. SO. MUCH. TRAIN.

Even if you choose to leave out the train entirely, the back of the dress is very full. My plaid dress is only six inches wider than the back piece (the pattern calls for an extra 20 inches to make a full train) and it is still very VERY full and long. I struggled to get the whole thing in a picture when it’s flat:

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This would be gorgeous going down the aisle on a wedding gown and the length is pretty much fashion-plate ideal for the Natural Form Era! However, it makes getting around modern life difficult, so for the sake of myself and others, I bustled it up with some cotton tape, creating a nice little “meringue” pouf at the back to make up for my lack of croissants:

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Minka is miffed that mommy won’t let her play in the wonderful plaid tent.

A NOTE for ladies with narrow and/or swayed backs and/or large busts with a small ribcage:
The lower back of this pattern is very VERY wide. The pannier pleats are probably under the model’s arm rather than father back as they should be because the lower back is too wide. I ended up taking nearly FOUR INCHES of width out of the lower back to get it to hug my spine the way it should!

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This one change greatly improved the side profile and fit of the dress. So if you find yourself tugging at your front French darts wondering why you keep taking out more but it still doesn’t look right, take some width out of the back first! It will also help slim your side profile and give you that graceful, swooping line so prized during the Natural Form Era!

The Process: Sleeves

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Again, I failed to stick to the pattern. I didn’t make this dress with the sleeves given. Instead, I created a 3/4 length, one-piece curved sleeve (which I should post a tutorial for soon) for the plaid dress and left the sleeves off entirely for the ball gown. This was just personal preference. The two-piece, short sleeve pattern that comes with Simplicity 4244 is perfectly fine and period correct; it’s just not to my taste.

Sorry, folks!

The Process: Finishing

The pattern calls for 15 tiny buttons and button holes down the front. I have never done buttonholes before and hadn’t even figured them into my pattern fitting, so I used hooks and bars (flat eyes) to close the front instead. Again, just a personal preference.
I made 4 inch wide hem facings to finish the hems. A hem facing protects the lining and fashion fabric from wear and weighs down the train so it lays more smoothly on the ground rather than bunching up or flipping over. I also added a key component that Simplicity 4244 is completely missing: interior bustle ties!

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I can loosen or tighten the ties to give me the shape I want. The cream colored cotton tape is helping distribute the weight of the train along the seam. A period gown would also have a waist tape (an interior belt) to help support everything. I left the tape long so if I ever put a waist tape in, I can use it to help hold up the train.

Having the interior bustle tie under the skirt in back pulls the front tight to the body so that you get the very slim front profile and flared train/tail in the back. It keeps the sides from flaring out like in the line drawing and on the model which Natural Form Era gowns are not supposed to do. You can tell the original gown probably had ties, too: the ruched trimming at the bottom ends abruptly about the place where the gown would wrap around the wearer:

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Bustle ties would pull the ends under the train, masking the abrupt stop.

I did not use either of the collars provided by the pattern. Instead, I just bias bound the square neckline (this step is is included in the pattern directions). I learned a very handy trick for making beautiful, neatly-turned facings: understitching!

Understitching keeps the facing from rolling over to the front. There are tons of tutorials, but this tutorial on Craftsy helped me the most:

“Essential Techniques: Discover the Secret to Perfectly Sewn Necklines!” by Linda Reynolds

I used the same technique for the armholes of the ball gown.

Between learning how to make French darts and understitching, I can safely say that I have graduated to the Intermediate sewing level! I even made it official on PatternReview.com. :P

However, those two techniques were the only new skills I needed to learn in order to make this dress. Everything else– plackets, hem facings, hooks and eyes, and pleats were all things I’d done before. In fact, most of the techniques to make the basic version of this gown without all the trimmings are fairly easy to learn. The most challenging part of the whole thing is the front placket. The rest is wrangling the huge amount of fabric and getting the fit the way you want it.

I know I said that this was going to be the final review, but my process analysis went waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated! So this is now an overstuffed, underdone trilogy!

simplicity 4244

“…”

Keep Reading:


Part III: Simplicity 4244 for Day and Night

(also, fewer half-baked jokes….)

Careful, they’re still hot!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

Belle of the Ball: Lily Elsie Inspired Edwardian Event Make-up

Reverse Tweezing: Making Those Brows Beautifully BOLD!

I have lots of projects in various stages of “go” scattered throughout my apartment right now, but the sewing bug just refuses to bite. So, instead of sewing, I have been dallying about, doing boring modern-person stuff like working, cleaning, and other such business. One of the projects that has fallen by the wayside is an Edwardian evening gown. I have the fabric, but have yet to choose a pattern. Instead of getting my rear in gear, I decided to play with make-up instead which, while not sewing related, is one of the first costuming-related activities I’ve done in almost 2 months. So, here’s a mini-tutorial for an Edwardian evening make-up look to go along with a (in my case, not-yet-materialized) ballgown.

I’ve talked about make-up and costuming before in “Saving Face: A Brief History Cosmetics and How to Wear Them with Historical Costumes,” which focused on getting a natural look for historical costumes that would show up well in modern photographs. Victorian and Edwardian women generally did not wear much makeup, but there were exceptions. One of the Edwardian era’s most famous beauties was Lily Elsie. Even if her name sounds unfamiliar, you are probably very familiar with Lily’s many beautiful publicity photos:

Lily Elsie was one of the era’s great actresses. Since actors and actresses needed to be seen clearly at great distances (and be beautiful for publicity portraits like those above), they wore heavier makeup than the average Edwardian woman. Lily’s signature was her dark, luscious eyebrows and rosebud lips. Doesn’t she look just like the dainty bisque dolls of the era?

Kestner Doll, circa 1895-1900

Heinrich Handwerck Doll, 1890-1900

The cosmetic stylings of Lily and her fellow Edwardian starlets marked the beginning of a new, heavier, youth-driven fashion trend that eventually developed into the iconic flapper look of the 1920s. She was, however, one of the last big-browed beauties of the age before the pencil-thin eyebrows took over. Here she is 10 years later, around 1927, her iconic eyebrows still glorious, but tweezed into submission–much closer to our modern arched shape:

You’ll notice that the altered shape of her eyebrows dramatically changed her appearance and makes her look much more fashionable to our eyes. We are used to this eyebrow shape and many of us ladies carefully groom an angled arch into our brows. During the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century, however, thick, evenly-full brows were the coveted shape. During the Edwardian era, cosmetics began to loose much of their taboo and for evenings, a woman might take some notes from the famous female faces of the stage– filling in her brows and giving herself rosy lips for glamorous special events like visiting the opera or going to a ball.

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The following make-up look is inspired by Lily Elsie’s many lovely photographs.  I specifically wanted something that would look good in the conditions of a modern Victorian-style indoor ball. I haven’t gotten to attend a formal ball yet, but it’s always good to practice a look just in case I ever get a chance! I aimed to recreate Lily’s style, but tone it down for the average woman and use makeup I already had on hand. This is not a strictly historical method, nor is it meant to be worn with every day, average Edwardian clothing. The heavy style is made to be worn for glamorous, low-light, nighttime events.

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The goal:

Creamy skin, dramatic dark eyebrows, full lashes, plump cheeks, and rosebud lips

The tools:

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Wet n Wild Matte Lipstick in “Stoplight Red”
ELF Lip Stain in “Nude Nectar”
Revlon Eyeshadow in “Satin Cocoa”
L’Oreal True Match Liquid Foundation in “Alabaster (C1)”
Not pictured: Cover Girl Professional Mascara in Brown

The ideal Edwardian woman had pale, bright, clear skin. I am definitely pale by modern standards, but with a smattering of splotchy freckles, a bit of a tan from wandering outside looking for fossils, and lots of redness from acne, my skin is far from the creamy porcelain ideal. So, I chose a liquid foundation to even everything out:

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If my foundation choice looks far too light for my face, you’d be right. However, it matches the rest of my skin tone, particularly my décolletage, which evening gowns reveal quite a lot of, so it’s important to match. I placed a dot of the exact same foundation on the collar bone (in the lower right of the picture) for comparison. Also, you probably can barely tell, but I’ve already completely covered and blended the foundation into the right side of my face! I really like this foundation because it doesn’t make me break out, it covers really well even without concealer, and it stays put. It is on the heavy side (for me at least), so a little goes a long way!

Next I filled in my brows with the powder eyeshadow. I’ve pretty much let my eyebrows grow naturally over the years because they are so light, but they have been tweezed into more of an arch than an arc at the ends. To get the full, even look, I concentrated powder application from the center back and filled in a little under the arch. This is key to getting an old-fashioned look. Its amazing how just a few millimeters of extra thickness can completely change the timeline of your brows! I chose a dark fill color to match the roots of my hair, but a lighter color closer to my natural brow color would also work. I just really envy those big, bold brows, though!

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Sorry I don’t have an “in progress” comparison shot for this. I didn’t think to do one. :(
A light touch of mascara helped fill in my lashline to match my naturally blonde eyelashes to my new, darker brows.

I used the lip stain to give my lips some natural tint, but I think I could have gone a little heavier. However, if you go too heavy, it starts to look too much like lipstick and looks more 1950s than Edwardian.

Though I just finished hiding my redness under the foundation, rosy cheeks really help bring the look together. Unlike modern  blush which is applied diagonally up and across the top of the cheek, Edwardian blush focused on the rounded apple directly in front. To find your apples just smile!

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I have a very fleshy face with lots of plumpness in the lower front, so I basically end up rouging the whole front of my face! Your apples may vary in size and shape. Here, I used my hand to find where the majority of the fullness was so I didn’t end up applying too much.

Since Edwardians would have used rouge instead of the wide variety of blushes we have now, I approximated the effect with my favorite faux-rouge: cheap matte red lipstick! I dabbed a bit on my finger then tamped it lightly onto my cheeks before blending it with a clean finger.

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I keep a stick of matte red lipstick just for “historical” use. It can also be used in the same manor as lip rouge in lieu of the lip stain. A little goes a long way!

Here’s the completed look:

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Taa-dah!

This makeup look is, like my previous one, designed to photograph well under different lighting situations using a digital camera. The look does dramatically change depending on the light!

Here are some examples of the same make-up with different camera settings and lighting conditions:

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“Soft White” Florescent

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“Normal” Florescent lighting (that typical office-esque blue/green)

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Combination of “Soft White” Florescent and Incandescent

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Low light without Flash

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Low light with Flash

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B&W Filter

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So do I look like Lily? Well…no. I don’t have her naturally dainty facial structure. But did I nail the porcelain doll look?

Bahr & Proschild Doll, circa 1870-1890

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Maybe a bit too well!
;)

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*

Support Garment Showdown: Options for Creating a Victorian Look With or Without a Corset

For this post, I am focusing mainly on the Mid to Late Victorian Era (1855-1901). However, there are tricks for all eras and I will be covering them soon!

corset_1880

Corsets are an essential part of almost any historical costume. For hundreds of years they have shaped and supported women and their clothing, creating otherwise inimitable silhouettes. However, corsets have long fallen out of the public’s good graces and only recently have they begun to make a widespread come back. Despite the revival, corseting remains one of the “hang-ups” for most new and casual costumers. We’ve already discovered that our ancestors came in many shapes and many different sizes, but what about their corsets? Many of us don’t corset on a regular basis; indeed, many of us have never even seen one in real life, much less put one on. Antique corset health myths and social stigma still hang around this staple garment, and many people are taught from grade school that corsets are enslaving, unhealthful, completely evil. It’s understandable, therefore, that some might be hesitant to give corsets a try. If the idea of a corset intimidates you, you are not alone! However, it’s worth trying and is the best way to get a proper Victorian shape.

Trying a Corset is Worth It!
(and easier than you think)

The biggest corset hang-up for many first time corset wearers is “the big squeeze:” the idea that the point of a corset is to squeeze you down to the smallest size possible regardless of comfort. While waist training and tight lacing were and are corseting practices to achieve greater size reductions, the average Victorian woman, working class women especially, used her corset mainly for supporting her breasts and the weight of her clothing (You can read more about the supporting properties of the corset here). When you first put on a corset, you need only lace as tightly as is comfortable. 2 inches is a good starting goal. If this sounds scary, measure your waist then suck in your stomach, pull your measuring tape tight and check the numbers again. You’ll likely discover that you can suck in your stomacher further than the 2 inches many costumers lace down in their corsets!

WaistMeasure

Light measurement: 29.75 inches
Tight measurement: 27.5 inches
“Natural” reduction: 2.25 inches
Ah, the unflattering pictures I suffer for costuming science!
Since weight and water retention fluctuates throughout the day, your measurements can vary quite a bit in only a few hours. A corset helps keep these measurements constant, which was great for Victorian women who could only afford one or two dresses at a time and didn’t have access to stretchy yoga pants!

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No Corset, Regular Bra: Bust 37″, Waist 29″

corset

Overbust Corset: Bust 36″, Waist 26″ (interior circumference)
This corset is being worn in this photo at a three inch reduction. You can see what a difference those three inches make! Even when I was younger and slimmer, I never had this much curve without a corset because I am naturally very tubular. Also, note the improved posture.

Historical silhouettes rely heavily on smooth curves to look correct. By putting on a corset and tightening it just an inch or so, you will notice a huge change in how your historical costumes look!

Before and After

Without a corset and with a corset.

There are many types of corsets/stays/”pairs of bodies” to choose from depending on what era you are looking at, but generally speaking, a classic overbust is a good place to start for a Victorian costumer. There are many modern corset options out there, but for a comprehensive list, I recommend visiting Lucy’s Corsetry. Picking a corset can be a daunting task, so doing research is important. I have bought corsets from eBay (with plenty of scrutiny) and from Orchard Corset with good results. If you enjoy sewing, there are also historical corset patterns available from Simplicity, Butterick, Laughing Moon, Ageless Patterns, and many others.

It may take some getting used to the sensation of being constantly “hugged” by your corset at first, but a well-made corset will not hurt you. Most corset-related tales of broken bones and the inability to breathe are based on sensationalized misinformation, or, in the case of rib or hip pain, the result of an improperly fitted corset.

Dealing With Corset Fit Problems

For women who want to wear a corset, but don’t fit in standard sizes, I feel your pain! Not all bodies are created the same and while there is a wide range of standardized corsets to choose from, sometimes it’s hard to find one that fits right. Overbusts are especially tricky to fit. So, if you find your cups running over or your hips pinching uncomfortably, what’s a gal to do?

For ladies with large breasts, underbusts solve any top-fit problems by fitting under the breasts instead of over them. Though underbusts are more suited to Edwardian (1900s) costuming than Victorian costuming, to approximate the look of an overbust corset, pair your underbust corset with a firm control sports bra! For A-D Cups, a regular “pouch” sports bra with firm control is usually sufficient. For larger-breasted or augmented women, a cupped sports bra may be more comfortable (I have a Wacoal underwire sports bra that I absolutely adore). To hide the heavy outline and prevent your dress bodice from bowing between the breasts, wear your chemise, tank top, or whatever liner you choose over the bra to hide it. Since a corset would hold the breasts firmly in place, you’ll need a bra that will stop as much overt jiggle as possible. It is also okay if it flattens your breasts somewhat since, unlike modern bras, Victorians were more concerned about creating radical side curvature than enhancing forward projection. )( vs. P, so to speak! However, having big breasts in Victorian costuming is not incorrect. There were plenty of ladies out there with killer curves:

Portrait of a Couple, circa 1895 from Etsy

If you have large hips, finding a ready-made corset that fits them can be a challenge, too. If you already have a corset and find that it fits well, but is too small in the hips, consider adding hip gores or ties.  Lucy has a handy tutorial on adding hip gores to a pre-existing corset:

This method may also work for adding bust gores as well, but I haven’t tried it yet. Hip and bust gores are period correct and many Victorian corsets used them, so they are an option for both improving a current corset or drafting one of your own. Gores allow you to custom-fit your curve without having to make complexly-shaped pieces.

However, some people don’t fit in standard size corsets, don’t feel comfortable making their own, or can’t afford a custom corset. In addition, some women may find wearing a corset uncomfortable for many reasons– medical conditions, heat sensitivity, or general dislike of restrictive clothing.

Foregoing a Corset Altogether

While a corset will give you the best possible Victorian shape, if a corset just won’t work for you, you do have other options! One option is to wear a modern girdle or shapewear. I own a Rago waist nipper that gives my tubular body a delineated waist. While it is steel boned, it is stretchy and light, so I have more freedom of movement. It only reduces my waist an inch or so, but it does smooth and give me some curve.

bra

Regular Bra Only: Bust 37″, Waist 29″

cgirdle

Bra and Girdle: Bust 37″, Waist 28″

Boning isn’t just for undergarments, either. Many Victorian bodices had light boning built right in. This type of boning wasn’t made to reduce the waist. Instead, it served to support the garment, making sure it laid as smooth as possible over the corseted figure.

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Red Silk Bodice, circa 1890
The red channels around the waist have flat steel boning inside to help support it. While a corset allows you to fit clothes more closely, the bodice benefits from having its own support structure so it doesn’t twist, bow, or wrinkle.

Many modern costume patterns meant for theater or casual wear often have a few pieces of boning figured into the design for the same purpose. While thin, flat steel bones are the period correct way to support a garment, modern plastic boning is easier to find. I generally avoid the coiled “featherweight” boning found in fabrics shops and go for cable ties instead. Cable ties (also called zip ties) are flexible, but still firm enough to support things.

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Cable ties used as support boning in my 18th century embroidered stomacher.

Such boning will not give you the curves a corset or girdle will, but it will help prevent wrinkles.  In-garment boning also helps prevent the garment from riding up. If you have a well defined natural hourglass shape, adding a bit of boning to your bodice will instantly improve the way your dresses sit, show off your shape to its full advantage, and may be enough to give you a Victorian-esque look. Besides curves, a smooth fit makes any Victorian dress look much more authentic (though plenty of our ancestors still struggled with getting the fit just right).

The final option is to use visual tricks to create the illusion of a smaller waist. Many tricks Victorian women used are still in use today:

Belts and Sashes

Grace King Afternoon Dress with Belt/Sash, circa 1870-75

Sashes and belts varied in width from a thin, tasseled rope to 4 or 5 inches wide with a buckle the size of your hand! Some were made to match a particular dress while others were were mix-n-match.

Woman wearing a Belt and Buckle, circa 1855

In the Victorian era, belts were used to further highlight the corseted waist. However, sashes and belts can both help delineate the uncorseted waist as well and are especially helpful with placing the definitive waistline at the proper point for a particular style (1860s waists are high while 1880s waists are lower, etc.).

Swiss Waists

Woman in a Swiss Waist, circa 1860

A Swiss Waist is a type of belt/bodice that helped accentuate the waist. They may look like corsets, but they do not actually reduce the waist and were worn fitted over a corset. They were very popular during the 1860s. There are plenty of “corset style” modern belts out there that can mimic the look of a Swiss Waist:

While they aren’t suitable for waist reductions like a steel boned corset, many underbust “fashion corsets” with plastic bones can also be worn as a Swiss Waist or you can make your own.

Fabric, Color, and Trim Placement

Kate Winslet in her famous “optical illusion” dress.

Many modern dresses and theater dresses use contrasting colors like black and white to slim the figure. Adding black to the sides of the waist causes the eye to “ignore” the shadowed area, making the waist appear even slimmer. This beautiful purple gown is a perfect example:

Visiting Dress, circa 1863-65

The Victorians were adept at using visual tricks to emphasize curves, using striped fabrics, long lines of buttons, trim, and shaped inserts to draw the eye:

Day Dress, circa 1855-57
V-shaped trim placement on this heavily tasseled gown helps make the bust and shoulders look wider and the waist look smaller, creating an even more dramatic size difference. Other seamstresses would add trim to the bustline and shoulders only, leaving the waist plain so it would appear much smoother and smaller as a result.

Afternoon Dress, circa 1886
This dress combines three design elements to help elongate, slim, and accentuate curves. The first is the use of vertical stripes. This is case, the vertical movement is further emphasized by the row of bright, glittering buttons which draw the eye inward, enhancing the lengthening effect. Thirdly, the decorative, striped fabric insert in the center of the otherwise plain bodice creates a curving shape of its own, so the eye is drawn to its tailored outline. Lots of 1880s dresses have a contrasting insert in an hourglass shape because it adds interest, texture, and highlights (or creates the illusion of) those ever-important curves.

Much like color and print, another important factor is the sheen of your fabric. Generally speaking, shiny fabrics, polysatins, for example, have lots of forward presence while matte fabrics, like wools and cottons, tend to recede. So, if you are making an 1880s dress like the one below, putting a shiny fabric in the center and a matte fabric on the outside will draw the eye to the shinier center shape:

Walking Dress, circa 1885

Getting the Rest of the Shape Correct

Proper support garments like bustles, crinolines, hoops, and other skirt supports are also key to the Victorian silhouette, depending on which period you are attempting! All those big, fluffy skirts helped increase the illusion of a small, defined waist, so if you’ve foregone a corset, having good skirt  shaping becomes paramount. Online bridal suppliers offer many inexpensive hoops, pads, and petticoats that you can rent or buy if you do not wish to craft your own.

Basic Dress Silhouettes
This chart is a good timeline of fashionable shapes.
1850s: Layers of petticoats/crinoline and hoops
1860s: Full and elliptical hoops
1870s: Elliptical hoops and the bustle
1880s: Bustles
1890s: Layers of petticoats
It’s amazing how cyclical fashion can be…

Costuming isn’t just about looking good; it’s about feeling good, too! Whether you are designing for yourself or an entire theater troupe, it’s important to take comfort into account as well as accuracy. Our modern clothing is very different from 19th century clothing, so the layering, fluffy skirts, and tight fit take some getting used to. After some practice, you will be able to move as elegantly as you are dressed! Enjoy yourself and never stop experimenting with new techniques, eras, or (in this case) undergarments!

Helpful Links

Lucy’s Corsetry – Lucy is considered the internet corset guru! She has reviewed many styles and brands of corsets, makes her own corsets (and provides tutorials), and covered the health effects, myths, and modern evolution of history’s most controversial garment. Almost any question you may have is probably answered on her blog, Tumblr, or YouTube channel.

Historical Sewing – Jennifer is a very knowledgeable seamstress who is well-versed in Victorian fashion and sewing techniques. If you are seeking to make your Victorian ensembles more authentic or have a burning question about how to put a garment together, she’s probably got a blog post that answers it!

Foundations Revealed – This website truly is “The Corset Maker’s Companion!” This all-inclusive database is supported by subscription, which gives you access to a huge library of corset articles ranging from how to construct and S-bend corset to what sort of cording is best for bust support to how to draft the perfect corset for any figure and more. There are also many helpful articles about basic corset construction and history available for free!

Most of the pictures in this article are linked to their source page so you can get more information about them. There are also multiple links to other helpful articles or sources scattered throughout the text (links will appear as a slightly lighter color of text). Please feel free to click and explore! There is much more information available on this subject than I could fit in one blog post!

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UPDATE:

Lucy of Lucy’s Corsetry recently did a video on almost this exact subject! She shows how to layer Swiss Waists/Belts over your corset and how to wear a fashion corset over a real corset:

The Three Shoes Every (Penniless) Historical Costumer Needs

For Every Cinderella Without a Fairy Godmother
A.k.a “Shoes for Stepsisters”

It may be impossible for a fashionable woman to have too many shoes, but what if your problem isn’t a lack of closet space, but a lack of funding? As lovely as it is to get a fresh pair of shoes for every new outfit, it’s not always feasible. Historically accurate shoes can be expensive. If you don’t like to tie yourself down to one specific stylistic decade, buying all the necessary historically accurate boots, slippers, and heels can really drain your bank account if you’re not careful. I love historical reproduction shoes, but between needing a new corset, buying sewing supplies, and having the annoying habit of needing food to survive, I don’t really have enough money to buy a new pair every time I change costuming eras. Instead, I have built up a core set of three shoe types that can mutitask across time periods.

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My Three Favorite Costuming Shoes

These shoes may not be historically accurate, but they are historically appropriate. There are only so many ways to shod the human foot, so while materials and decorations may have changed, there are a few basic shoe styles that have cycled through history in different incarnations. We are blessed that modern fashion is so all-encompassing: we have every imaginable shoe type available to us! It’s just a matter of finding the right one for the right price. With a little legwork and luck, you can squeak by in nearly any era with only three pairs of shoes!

I chose the following shoes for their comfort, simplicity, ease of availability, and ability to be worn as everyday modern shoes as well (Huzzah for raiding your own closet for historically appropriate shoes!).

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Low-Heeled Mary Jane or T-Straps
Wear them for: Elizabethan and Stuart (1590-1630), Victorian (1860-1900), and Edwardian (1900+) Costumes

My pair:

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T-Strap Shoes by Angel Steps

My pair takes the Mary Jane style a bit further by being a t-strap, but both styles are workable. This is my favorite pair of shoes! Angel Steps brand is marketed by Amerimark and comes in many different variations and styles. The company, however, can be difficult to work with. You can read more about that adventure and see these shoes in action in “Halloween Thrifting Challenge: Early Stuart Era (1603-1625)

Mary Janes are shoes with a strap over the instep. They were popular in the Elizabethan era, and can be used for mid-Victorian shoes. The heyday of the strappy Mary Jane, however, was definitely the Edwardian era.
There are many variations of the Mary Jane style: wide straps, thin straps, t-straps, or multiple straps over the instep. For the most versatility, though, a single strap or thick t-strap is the easiest to blend into multiple eras. The key to the historical appropriateness, however, is the low heel. Modern women love towering high heels, but historically speaking, “high heels” weren’t very common and usually maxed out around 3 inches. For the most bang for your buck, choose a neutral color like black, white, or brown. These colors will work in all eras and are the most authentic, especially for earlier costumes.

Extant Examples:

Elizabethan/Stuart
Leather Shoe, circa 1600

Elizabethan shoes had a long tongue with straps over them that tied in place. This style of shoe is very hard to find (unless you buy recreations or find the miraculous modern incarnation), but you can modify a pair of modern Mary Janes to mimic the look by wearing a fabric rosette on top. Rosettes were super trendy during the early 1600s and were rather large. Simply slip a rosette onto the strap of your Mary Janes and you’re good to go! Both men and women in this era wore this style of shoe, so if you are a dainty-footed gentleman, take a peek into the ladies’ shoe department. Just remember that women’s shoes run smaller than men’s, so order up about two sizes (an 8 in men’s is about a 10 in women’s). Surprisingly, side buckles existed, but likely just on children’s shoes.

Victorian
Women’s Bar Shoes (Mary Janes), circa 1880-85

Mary Janes were known as “bar” or “strapped” shoes during the 19th century (Mary Jane was a patented shoe name in the 20th century) and were very popular, especially during the 1890s.

Edwardian, Flapper, and Beyond
Bar Shoes (Mary Janes), circa 1919

Once the 20th Century hit, Mary Janes and T-straps were all the rage! Multiple thin straps were especially popular and usually had long, pointy toes, but simple rounded toes were still used for utilitarian working and walking shoes.

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Pointed-Toe Louis Heel
Wear them for: 18th century, Late Victorian (1870-1900), and 20th Century Costumes

My Pair:

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My Sexy Suede Heels!
I found these at the local Thrift Town second hand shop. They were $3 and are really REALLY worn in (they need new heel tips right now). Suede isn’t historically accurate for 18th century shoes, but unless you get really close, it doesn’t really matter. The shape is uncommon, but not unheard of.

The Louis heel is a curvy heel. Technically, a Louis heel has a very specific curve and other variations have other names. However, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to call all appropriately curvy heels Louis heels because when you’re poor like me, there’s no point squabbling over details, especially since a good curvy heel is so hard to find anyway.
Louis heels are named after King Louis XIV and Louis XV of France. Both loved heels and show off their collections in many of their royal portraits. Many of the heels on Their Majesties’ shoes are blockier than later incarnations. The curvier heels seen on lady’s shoes has also been attributed to Madame Pompadour, King Louis XV’s mistress. Once she started wearing curvy heels, so did every other 18th century lady of fashion!
Heels went out of style during the French Revolution, but were revived in the late Victorian era. The American Bicentennial in 1876 created a rococo revival. 18th century styling, including buckles, can be found on many shoes of the era. The Louis heel stayed fashionable into the 20th century, but other heel styles like the mid-century stiletto pushed it out of the limelight and into obscurity. However, finding a good curvy heel is still possible, especially at second hand shops and online. Pretty much any color or heel height under 4 inches will do, but choose a color and heel height that that you feel comfortable wearing often.

Extant Examples:

18th Century
Latchet Shoes, circa 1760-75
and
Mules, circa 1740

18th Century Louis heeled shoes had latchets–two straps that crossed over the top and were held in place with a buckle. Outside of reproductions, these criss-crossing latchets aren’t available on modern shoes. With a little bit of creativity and some pretty fabric, you can recover shoes to create latchets, but another option that requires no alteration is the mule (backless heels). Mules with pointy toes were very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so there’s usually a good selection available second-hand.

Late Victorian
Rococo Revival Style Pumps, circa 1890

By about 1870, the modern pump was already beginning to be recognizable. Many evening shoes of the era were just like a pair of pumps you would find in your neighborhood shoe shop today. If you find a pair of leather pumps with a curvy Louis heel, you’ve struck Victorian gold!

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Flats
Wear them for: Medieval (5-14th century), Renaissance to Stuart (14th century to 1630), Regency (1790-1832), and Victorian (1832-1860)

My Pair:

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Green Velvet Semi-Flats
My flats aren’t perfectly flat (they have a 1/2 inch heel), but they have a nice high vamp and rounded-point toe that works well with lots of different costumes. Plus, they are comfy. I bought them second-hand for $2 with Regency costuming in mind. You can see them in action (sort of) in “Transforming Edwardian Nightwear into Regency Daywear.”

Flats can be as basic or fancy as the occasion demands. Really, you could pretty much costume every era with flat shoes. There are small nuances for different eras– the Medieval poulaines, Tutor cowmouths, Regency’s knife-sharp pointed toes, and squared Victorian slippers— but a gently rounded toe will get you through almost every era without trouble. Flat shoes can also very easily be made at home if you’re feeling crafty! The only caveat for flats is that they shouldn’t show “toe cleavage” over the top of the vamp. Also, make sure they fit over stockings (stockings can help hide toe cleavage in a pinch as well!). Almost any color or decoration will work depending on your outfit, but a good leather or satin flat in a natural tone will work through more eras. Simple ankle boots made of leather or cloth can work for all of the eras listed above, too! In college, I had a pair of flat Rocket Dog ankle boots that worked well for medieval. It was heart rending when they wore out.

Extant Examples (too many to count, but here are a few):

Medieval
Saxon Shoe, 6th-9th century
and
Child’s Ankle Boot, circa 1350-1400

Besides flat slippers, flat-soled ankle boots were nearly universal. You can make reproductions of Medieval shoes from leather if you plan to do lots of medieval costuming.

Renaissance
Slashed Leather Shoe, circa 1500-1550
and
Slashed (finished with buttonhole edges) Velvet Shoes, circa 1550-1575

Slashed shoes matched the Renaissance trend for slashed sleeves and other garments. Just as a sleeve’s slashes allowed luxurious poufs of fabric to show through, slashed shoes allowed brightly colored stockings to peek out. All those slashes would fill your shoe with pebbles in no time! These slashed shoes were for the rich nobles who did not have to walk or work in the dust often. Lower-class shoes looked much as they had since ancient times.

Regency
Spangled Silk Shoes, circa 1793-98
and
Leather Walking Boots, circa 1795-1815

If you love wearing flats, this is your era! Heels (except the tiniest kitten heels) were out of fashion. Ankle boots were gaining popularity again after being completely out of fashion in the 17th and 18th century and now had front laces. Flat shoes of this era and the Victorian era could be made in leather or cloth by a craftsman or at home. In 1790-1810, pointed shoes were in style. They start transitioning to square toes around 1820.

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Early to Mid Victorian
Cotton and Silk Shoes, circa 1845-60
and
Silk Satin Boots, circa 1830-1850

Shoes during the first half of Queen Victoria’s reign rarely had heels and were generally made with a very noticeable square toe. However, since many women made their shoes at home from patterns out of fashion magazines, middle and lower class shoes, especially for daytime wear, are usually more rounded.

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Going Beyond the 3 Shoes

While these three shoes will let me wiggle by in nearly every fashion from 1590 to now, it is a very limited shoe wardrobe. It’s better to think of these three shoes as three shoe types instead. I’ve collected a few variations of each shoe type for specific outfits, like this pair I plan to use when I finally get my Edwardian dress project off the ground:

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These 1990s Purple Pumps were $4 at Goodwill.
I think I may have a “thing” for suede shoes…

These pumps are a variation of the first type of shoe in this list–the Low-Heel Mary Jane–with a bit of the second type–Pointed-Toe Louis Heels–mixed in for a good dose of Edwardian spice! As soon as you learn to recognize the major characteristics of historical footwear, you won’t feel as overwhelmed when you’re digging through shelf after shelf of shoes because you’ll be able to instantly judge whether the shape is historically appropriate or not. After that, all the little nuances like materials, decoration, and color fall into place easily!